Expert answers – to questions about reading


in Expert answers

Expert Answers is a series of weekly articles with expert answers to important questions about language and language acquisition. This is the first in the series.

Reading FAQ (frequently asked questions) is a fascinating little book by Frank Smith. In it he answers questions that people have asked him about reading. Many of his answers are helpful for people acquiring a new language. Today’s question:

So how do we learn to read?

Here’s what Smith says:

Reading teaches us to read. Every time we read a story, we learn a little more about reading, whether we are a child just beginning or an adult with years of experience.

That’s one reason reading is good for us. And the second reason is that reading is a perfect way of becoming acquainted with stories that teach us more about the world in an enjoyable and satisfying way.

Reading teaches us about aspects of the world that we could never otherwise experience, and even about worlds that we could never imagine.

Reading helps make us who we are, just like any kind of experience.

But reading is a particularly powerful kind of experience, because it engages us … in a fully focused manner. When a book grabs us, we leave the world around us and enter the world of the book. We are caught up in it.

A third reason

The third reason reading is so good for us is that when we read the way Smith describes – engaged, focused, and “grabbed” by the book – our language improves. It works for everyone – those who have just begun their language journey and those who have been traveling for a long time. Nothing works better!

Warren Ediger

Related reading:

Note: Frank Smith, who holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, has been a professor at universities in Canada and South Africa. He is an independent writer and researcher and is currently exploring the role of technology in education.

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Warren Ediger June 20, 2010

One of my students was surprised when he went to to buy the book Reading FAQ by Frank Smith. He discovered that one person had given the book only a 2-star rating (5 is the best) and had written very negative comments about the book. Here are my observations about those comments:

The reviewer’s tone is negative – we would even say inflammatory (intended to make us angry) – all the way through. Most of his statements are very general, and he doesn’t provide any examples or evidence to support what he says. He wants us to believe him rather than Smith, but he gives us no reasons to do so.

In my opinion, the reviewer is either not personally familiar with Smith’s work or he chooses to ignore it. Frank Smith’s books and articles are thoroughly and carefully researched. Not everyone agrees with everything he says, and that’s okay. What Smith has to say is valuable and needs to be thought about.

Interestingly, if you look at Smith’s other books on Amazon, they all receive compliments and 4 or 5 stars from more than just one person. A newer book on reading – The Power of Reading: insights from the Research (2004) by Dr. Stephen Krashen – supports almost everything Smith says. And it gets 5 stars!

I would never allow one angry commenter to shape my opinion of anything.

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